It’s impossible to talk about Outlook Kitchen + Bar without considering the entity that houses it – the Envoy Hotel. With its sleek glass exterior reflecting the surrounding sites of the Seaport, the Envoy, which opened this past June, brings luxury accommodations to the ever-growing Innovation District. The lobby alone is enough to make you wonder whether you’re underdressed. Every corner of this big, modern space looks measured and meticulous, from the marble walls to the dark blue sofas, neatly punctuated with gold throw pillows.
The Outlook Kitchen + Bar almost feels like an extension of the hotel lobby. So open is the space that you could find yourself just wandering right in. And the restaurant is practically indistinguishable from the hotel in its stylish aesthetic. The interior is spacious and uncluttered. Floor-to-ceiling glass doors offer a view of the patio outdoors, and they retract in the warmer weather. The opposite wall is adorned with funky light fixtures and spherical bulbs intended to represent the city lights. Diners have a full view of the goings-on in the glass-enclosed kitchen.
The Outlook and the Envoy may be similar in appearance, but Davide Crusoe’s job is to ensure that a visit to the restaurant is a singular experience. “Our goal is that when you come in, you don’t think we’re part of the hotel,” says the Director of Concept Restaurants for Pyramid Hotel Group. He admits that hotel companies in general have done a miserable job in the food and beverage realm, and overcoming that poor reputation is a challenge.
“When we build restaurants out, we pretend like there’s no hotel on top,” Davide explains. “You don’t want to go the hotel lobby bar if you’re a business traveler, because it’s often boring and lame and tired, and there are plenty of those. So it’s my job to make sure it’s dynamic.”
It had better be – an uninspired food and beverage program won’t last in a neighborhood where Drink, TRADE, Committee, and other leading restaurants and cocktail bars are in walking distance. “There are some killer options here, a lot of good stuff that would give you a reason not to want to stay here,” Davide acknowledges. “So if we can give you a reason to stay here, then we’ve done our job.”
They accomplished that by creating an environment that would appeal even to locals. The Envoy got the neighborhood’s attention this summer with its Lookout rooftop bar. Offering seasonal cocktails and spectacular city views, it’s a sophisticated alternative to other rooftop bars in the area. And while the Lookout was a trendy spot for drinks this past summer, the reflexively titled Outlook, which opened in September, boasts a serious food and beverage program that will make it a year-round destination.
A large, rectangular bar is the room’s focal point, with liquor bottles tastefully displayed on shelves in the center. Davide offers suggestions for the cocktail program and maintains the final say, but he calls the drink list a collaborative effort. “We tell our staff, You own the list. It’s not a corporately mandated program; it’s more personal than that for us.”
There’s a deliberate emphasis on spirits made by regional distillers. The Juliet and Romeo combines GrandTen Wire Works gin, mint, cucumber, and rose water for a crisp, herbal cocktail with an upfront cucumber flavor. The name is chivalrous in nature. “Ladies have to come first,” Davide politely remarks.
Berkshire Mountain Distillers’ Ethereal gin features in the Go Go Bordello, combining with lemon, hibiscus, and champagne for a floral drink with a striking reddish hue.
The cocktails are beautifully presented, and Davide says the look is essential to the experience. “You eat with your eyes, you drink with your eyes. So we want to be pretty.”
The Metal Flowers is served, appropriately, in a metal cup. It’s an attractive cocktail made with chai-infused rum, peach bitters, Cointreau, and lime, though it’s a little sweet for my taste.
“For me, any cocktail list that I ever do, I look at balance first; and just like food, I look at presentation,” Davide explains. “And the last thing is the story behind it.”
With that, he recounts the amusing episode that inspired “Google Me…Google Me,” a blend of Bully Boy whiskey, Crème de Pêche, and peach bitters. The drink is named for the bar’s first-ever inebriated guest, a gentleman who apparently thought the bar staff should recognize him. “We were open for two days upstairs, and this guy came in and he’d obviously been drinking somewhere else,” he recalls. “And he continued to say to us, ‘You don’t know me? You don’t know me? Google me, Google me!”
Davide admits that he and the bar staff had fun naming the drinks. He insists that “Come Play With Me” be pronounced with a Russian accent, which of course he demonstrates. There’s nary a Russian ingredient in this spicy mix of Xicaru mezcal, lime, mint, and Ancho Reyes, but who am I to turn down the chance to use a Russian accent?
The cocktails are all very approachable, though a few are what Davide calls “big-boy drinks.” One is the Common Habits, made with Wire Works gin, Carpano Antica, Campari, green chartreuse, and orange bitters. More bitter than the other offerings, it will satisfy those who crave a more herbal bite in their drinks.
Despite the emphasis on the cocktails’ appearance, there’s also a need for simplicity. With 30 guests at the bar and many more at tables, complicated drinks that take 15 minutes to prepare aren’t going to fly. Further, the cocktails are designed to be food-friendly. Davide explains that the beverage program aligns with culinary style of executive chef David Verdo, a James Beard award-winning chef formerly of Asana and CHOPPS. “David’s food is very ‘clean,’” he says. “He doesn’t over-ingredient, but he prepares to perfection.”
As with the drinks, presentation is key. But chef Verdo’s dishes take that principle to an entirely different level. Bursting with color, nearly every plate is like a work of art. Some are fairly simple, others wildly creative; none disappoint. And as with the cocktail menu, there’s always room for a little fun.
If you order the steak and eggs, don’t expect the classic brunch dish. This serving of beef tartare, blended with pickled shiitake and smoked gouda, is topped with a raw quail egg. It may not be for the squeamish, but chef Verdo’s version is as delicious as it is clever.
Shrimp tempura come with thin slices of black radish, baby turnip, green-tea-infused soba noodles, and a ginger-soy vinaigrette that bar manager Michael Ray describes as “ridiculous” as he places the dish in front of me. He explains that the shrimp are coated in a rice batter, which is lighter than normal tempura batter.
Maine sea scallops are drizzled with a tasty crustacean broth, spiced with saffron, and accompanied by fresh edamame and lentils.
Chef Verdo focuses on locally sourced ingredients, and the menu tends to fluctuate with the seasons. The fall veggie plate mostly comprises root vegetables, like sugar turnips, baby carrots, and mushrooms, with a beet and yogurt puree.
Autumn flavors also infuse the Moulard duck breast. It’s served with a sweet potato puree that’s spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, along with golden raisins poached in butter. Crispy parsnips add a little crunch.
As I picked from among the growing number of plates in front of me, I talked with Davide about the ins and outs of his job with Pyramid Hotel Group. Despite his involvement with glamorous restaurants in locales like Hawaii and the Caribbean, as well as the stylish Emerald in Boston’s Revere Hotel, he remains a server at heart. “I don’t know how to do anything else but to take care of people,” he says. “I tell people I’m the best-dressed bus boy. I like to make sure they’re happy.”
It’s an attitude he seems to have imparted to his staff, all of whom come across as personable and helpful. Every dish comes with a detailed explanation of every ingredient. One of the bartenders stops by to recommend I try a drink called the Details, made with Tequila Ocho Reposado, ginger, orgeat, and lemon bitters. It’s spicy and refreshing, and I’m glad for the suggestion.
Now granted – I’m sitting with the boss, so it’s fair to question whether this is the typical dining experience. But true enthusiasm is hard to feign, and everyone I encounter seems genuinely excited about what they’ve got here. And no one more so than Stephanie, a server who thoughtfully opines on several of the dishes, helps out with the pictures, and rounds out my visit with a couple of killer suggestions.
First is the Pineland Farms flat iron steak, served with roasted fingerling potatoes, cauliflower, snow peas, and chimichurri sauce. Cooked medium rare, it’s juicy and practically fork-tender with a nice char on the outside. The chimichurri sauce serves as a tangy complement.
Secondly, she urges me to try a dessert she describes as “magical.” That’s setting the bar pretty high, but pastry chef Kimberly Darisse’s creation lives up to the depiction. Her “campfire torte” is a confectionary masterpiece. First there’s a layer of toasted meringue on the bottom of the plate, sprinkled with graham cracker crumbs. Placed on top of it is a dark chocolate ganache torte with a graham cracker crumb crust, topped with more toasted meringue and a dark chocolate hazelnut lace.
But wait – there’s more.
Next to the torte is a little jar filled with homemade marshmallows that are not only toasted but smoked. Open the jar and, in Stephanie’s words, “a little puff of magical campfire smoke comes out, and it smells amazing.”
It tastes amazing, too. As with much of the food menu, the dish is a shrewd blend of flavors and textures. The ganache is nothing short of decadent, and the marshmallows, in all their light, soft, smoky goodness, are a splendid complement.
And while the presentation is extraordinary, Davide’s earlier comments about simplicity ring true. The dessert may be expertly crafted, but the familiar components of chocolate, graham cracker, and marshmallow are enough to make you forget, just for a moment, that you’re eating dessert in an upscale restaurant. The smoke plumes out of that jar and you’re transported to a fireside on a cool autumn evening, making s’mores with friends.
Nostalgia might be the last thing you’d expect from a contemporary hotel in a major city. Then again, just finding a hotel restaurant that holds itself to the standard of a contemporary freestanding establishment is something of a rarity.
Address: 70 Sleeper Street, Boston
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